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Communication Theories in a Multicultural World

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Edited By Clifford G. Christians and Kaarle Nordenstreng

This volume is an up-to-date account of communication theories from around the world.
Authored by a group of eminent scholars, each chapter is a history and state-of-the-art description of the major issues in international communication theory.
While the book draws on an understanding of communication theory as a product of its socio-political and cultural context, and the challenges posed by that context, it also highlights each author’s lifetime effort to critique the existing trends in communication theory and bring out the very best in each multicultural context.
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4 Understanding the Critical Political Economy of the Media

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Studying the political economy of communications is no longer a marginal approach to media and communication studies in many parts of the world. Increasingly, this approach is crucial to understanding the growth and global expansion of media and information industries. Thus, more researchers have turned to this perspective as a necessary and logical way to study these developments.

This chapter will discuss the foundations and some of the major works in the study of the political economy of media and communications (PE/M).1 The discussion presents an overview of the development of this approach, as well as providing examples of research representing the perspective. An argument will be made that the analysis of communications and culture from the perspective of critical political economy has influenced many communications researchers (such as Robert White), who may not overtly identify with the approach but often share its theories, concepts, and critical orientations.

To fully understand a political economic approach to studying media and communication, it is necessary to trace the foundations of political economy itself. The general study of political economy draws on eighteenth century Scottish Enlightenment thinking and its critique in the nineteenth century. For Adam Smith, David Ricardo, and others, the study of economic issues was called political economy and was grounded in social theory. Smith defined political economy ← 60 | 61 → as the study of “wealth” (material goods) or the allocation of resources, and was concerned with “how mankind arranges to allocate scarce resources with...

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